By Jeremy Appel on September 19, 2017.
Registration for SD76, Medicine Hat’s public school board, occurred Monday at city hall, with nine candidates vying for five trustee positions.
SD76 chair Rick Massini, who was a teacher for 38 years, said he’s running for re-election as a trustee to build upon the unconventional methods of teaching he’s promoted on the board.
“We’ve moved away from a strictly traditional type of teaching, with now a greater focus on learning. Over the past seven or eight years, we’ve put a system in place that accommodates all students,” said Massini.
Terry Riley, a former chair who currently sits as a trustee, said he too wants to continue his longtime work with the board.
“I’ve worked at this school district, either as an employee or a school board member, for close to 45 years now. I’m very proud of the record that this school district has.
“We are amongst the bottom quarter in terms of population and income, but we are in the top 25 per cent in terms of academic achievement,” he said, adding that it is “vitally important” to create an inclusive environment.
Incumbent trustee Deborah Forbes said she wants to improve co-ordination between the board and the provincial government.
“We get so many directives from the provincial government and then we have our own things that we’re doing in the school district. My contribution is to make those two things mesh, so they really are serving our 7,200 students as best we can,” she said.
Forbes likened the school board to the jelly in a peanut butter and jam sandwich.
“We’re the filling,” she said. “If you have a poor filling, things go entirely out of whack. If you have a pretty good filling, the corporate board can keep things going in the interest of students.”
Incumbent Carolyn Freeman said the major duty of a school board is to provide support for its students and teachers.
“We really need to be aware of what the future of education is going to be in the province and support some of the marvelous initiatives and directives that we’re seeing in our school district,” she said.
Greg Bender, who sat on the public school board from 2001 until 2013, said he will be a voice of “continued stability” at SD76.
“We need some thoughtful consideration and thoughtful discussion of issues that come to the board,” he said.
Another challenger, Aaron Myrdan, said he wants the board to be more future-oriented.
“There’s a certain amount of forward-thinking we need to put into school planning in the future to make sure that the schools in Medicine Hat are teaching what we’re going to need for the economy of the future,” said Myrdan, citing automation, health and services.
Catherine Wilson Fraser, another incumbent, said policy 622, which mandates gender diversity policies, was the most contentious issue the board dealt with this term.
“We did really well with coming to terms with correct wording to please parents,” she said. “Right now, we have to move forward.”
Jeremy Williamson, another challenger, said the board is “side-lining” parents.
He specifically objects to the policy where teachers aren’t under obligation to pass on “sensitive information” to parents.
“No matter what that information is, whether it’s for gay-straight alliances or for joining the football club,” Williamson said parents ought to know.
City councillor Celina Symmonds, who’s giving up her seat to run for the public school board, said she wants to help SD76 better communicate its policy changes.
“I feel like our school board is doing a good job, but I might bring a new voice to that,” said Symmonds.
She defended policy 622, saying that much of the opposition to it is “fear based,” which could be allayed by spending more time addressing concerned parents.
Note: This story has been updated to correct the number of candidates as stated in the first sentence.
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